The Cambridge Analytica scandal made it clear once and for all how public opinion can be manipulated. To do this, the manipulators used Facebook data in particular. So, is manipulation no longer possible since the revelation of this scandal?

Search engine algorithms reliably process search queries; manipulation is introduced into search engines from the outside. How does this work in Google? idealo Head of SEO, Malte Landwehr’s presentation at our recent Searchmetrics Summit told an exciting story about buses and cheese, and what SEO consequences this has for companies and brands.

Positive or negative connotations – that is what matters

“Let’s go to Google, and we type in Facebook. If you do it today, there could be something about layoffs. But when we type in Facebook whistle, Google suggests to complete the search into Facebook whistleblower, Facebook whistleblower BBC, etc.” Malte Landwehr, idealo Head of SEO

Malte suggests to open Google and type the keywords ‘Facebook whistle’ into the search box. Google Suggest opens directly below the search box and suggests related search queries.

Fig. 1: Google Suggest shows search suggestions with negative connotations for the keywords “facebook whistle”

The result: search suggestions with negative connotations, even if people generally tend to sympathize with whistleblowers.

auto suggestions when typing the words 'Tesla whistle' into Google

Fig. 2: For “Tesla whistle”, only three search suggestions with negative connotations appear in Suggest

‘Tesla whistle’, however, only generates three negative search suggestions – why is that? How do these qualitatively different proposals come about, even though whistleblowers in both cases published information that has negative implications for both companies, but only with Facebook does Google actually reflect this sentiment? There were whistleblowers at Tesla as well, so why doesn’t Google Suggest reflect this trend?

“Blow the whistle on Tesla”

“This sounds very stupid, but it works. And if it works, it’s probably not stupid. Morally, we can find all of this very questionable. But if we just look at the effort they put into it and the outcome they generated – it worked. They executed this amazingly well.”

Malte Landwehr, idealo Head of SEO

In the end, it’s all about generating a favorable outcome. In order to prove this crucial point, Malte explained how Tesla ‘blew the whistle’, by actually producing a whistle which can still be ordered today.

When Tesla was informed that a…